Turn around and 20 free pizzas appear

Caffé Amici's owners, Sal and Sal, are named our Men of the Year in Business

December 27, 2007 | 04:48 AM
For the past 16 years, Caffé Amici in Selden has been a fixture for anyone looking for a quick slice of pizza — and it's a place you can take your whole family to for a fine meal that will be easy on the wallet. And whether it's grandma style, chicken Parmesan or a plain old slice, there is a good chance it was served to you by Sal or Sal.

Sal Mazzola and his son-in-law, Sal Cacciato, the co-owners of Cafe Amici, do more than serve great food at a great price, they serve the community by providing to any individual or organization that is in need — making them our choice for Businessmen of the Year.

From supplying pizza to Stagecoach Elementary on the day it reopened after a fire, to donating gift certificates to the Selden Fire Department's community Christmas party, to catering the Middle Country schools' Special Performance/Achievement Recognition Commendation (SPARC) awards dinner or a fundraiser, Mazzola and Cacciato are more than willing to help. They are always willing to help, whether taking part in toy drives or supplying the Selden Fire Department with food on short notice.

"From rasing money to donate toys to kids, to helping out sick people, they have never turned us away" said Nick Caracappa of the Middle Country Board of Education.

Mazzola has been in the business of serving excellent food one way or another since the age of 14, starting out as a delivery boy for a pizza place in Middlewood, Brooklyn. Over the years he learned all the nuances of the business firsthand. Better yet for Amici's patrons, he learned all he knows about cooking from his mother and grandmother, who taught him both the northern and southern traditions of fine Italian cooking. His career was put briefly on hold when he entered the Armed Forces in 1972, but even then he served as a cook, as well as a stockade supervisor.

When Mazzola returned from the service he open a string of pizza places in Brooklyn and Queens, including one named Gina's, after his daughter. In 1992 he opened Caffé Amici in the then-newly constructed Independence Plaza with his business partner, Nunzio Cusamano. When Amici first opened for business Mazzola hired another Sal: Cacciato. He started out as a busboy, eventually moving to waiter. After five years he bought out Cusamano. The working relationship between Mazzola and Cacciato couldn't be better.

"He's a hard worker and I've never had a problem with him," the older Sal said of the younger.

One of Mazzola and Cacciato's most outstanding civic achievements came when a fire ravished Stagecoach Elementary School in Selden a week before the start of the 2006-07 school year. With the students split up among the different schools in the district, Principal Joe Elsasser was stuck with the unenviable task of holding the Stagecoach school community together.

Soon the school and its Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) organized a barbecue picnic to help retain a sense of unity for the students, Caffé Amici was one of the restaurants that catered the event.

"Amici's told me they were going to take care of us," Elsasser said, and they did — doing far more for Stagecoach than anyone could have imagined.

Amici catered all of the Stagecoach functions held at Selden Middle School while the elementary was undergoing reconstruction. The events included parent-teacher night, PTA meetings and the annual book fair.

"They delivered on everything they promised," Elsasser said.

In January, when Stagecoach held a ribbon-cutting reopening ceremony, Amici supplied every student with a pizza lunch.

"Every hour their big delivery truck came by with more and more pies," the principal recalled. "There was not a child that day that did not get a hot slice of pizza."

The outpouring of support overwhelmed Elsasser, a longtime resident of Selden.

"When something like this happens it makes you feel like this is a small-town community," he said.

Debbie Felber, president of the Selden Civic Association and a member of the Middle Country school board, first met the Sals when she was a member of the PTA. Felber admires their business and civic efforts.

"They've always helped right from the get-go," she said. "They are always more than willing to help us when they can."

And she likes their cooking, recalling being "completely overwhelmed" by the catering Amici provided for the SPARC dinner held in April 2007.

Nick Caracappa, another Selden resident and school board member, agrees with Felber that "Sal and Sal" supplied the SPARC ceremony with fare "above and beyond anything we could have asked for."

Chief John Bartnik of the Selden Fire Department has also relied on Mazzola and Cacciato — to feed hungry firefighters on very short notice after alarms.

"We are not in the position where we can give two hours notice to get food," Bartnik said. "Its more like 30 minutes, and every time we return from a call there is a stack of 20 pies waiting for us."

All the generosity Mazzola and Cacciato have shown toward the community comes from a very simple place.

"Being greedy gets you nowhere," Mazzola said. "If you give people the best stuff at a decent price, they are going to come back."

Cacciato agreed that their spirit of giving has only been an asset, saying, "We've found that it always comes back to us."

Good news for their fans: In 2008 Mazzola and Cacciato plan to expand into the next storefront in order to widen their dining room and add a private room for parties and receptions.

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